Friday, May 27, 2011

Evelyn Jean Pine on Being a Female Playwright and Her Revenge Against Samuel Beckett

SINCE THIS IS THE FINAL WEEKEND OF THE BEST OF PLAYGROUND FESTIVAL, we wanted to publish one more interview with a Festival playwright to console those of you who cannot get enough PlayGround. Evelyn Jean Pine has been in the Writers Pool since 2003, although at one point, she too was just starting out, like Arisa White, the first Festival playwright we interviewed. And like Daniel Heath, our second Festival playwright, her playwriting career began when she entered the Pool. Since then, she has won PlayGround’s June Anne Baker prize for a distinguished female writer and has been named a PlayGround Emerging Playwright five times. PlayGround commissioned her to write two plays, Astonishment, about the invention of movies and their impact on the imagination, and The Secrets of the World about Queen Isabella. Currently, she teaches Performance Studies at San Francisco State.

Evy wrote See. On. Unseen. The. Lost. for the Monday Night PlayGround devoted to a quote from Eugene O’Neill, ("Like a saint's vision of beatitude. Like the veil of things as they seem drawn back by an unseen hand. For a second you see—and seeing the secret, are the secret. For a second there is meaning! Then the hand lets the veil fall and you are alone, lost in the fog again, and you stumble on toward nowhere, for no good reason! " — Eugene O’Neill, Long Day’s Journey Into Night), although Jack Kerouac figures largely in her play. In our interview, she explains why, and she also reveals how her play takes revenge on Samuel Beckett’s Waiting for Godot. In the Festival production, David Cramer and Jomar Tagatac act, and Raelle Myrick-Hodges of Brava! for Women in the Arts directs.

Are you from the Bay Area?
Nope. I'm from Worthington, Ohio, north of Columbus.

Where do you live now?
San Francisco.

How long have you been with PlayGround?
My first season was 2003-2004.

What is it like being a female playwright in a male-dominated field?
Being a playwright is fantastic. I think I would have become a playwright sooner if I'd read more female playwrights when I was growing up. The only women playwrights whose work was in the Worthington Public Library back then was Lillian Hellman, Claire Booth Luce, etc. I wrote a lot of plays in high school and college, but I never took them seriously.

How did you come to start playwriting?
I submitted a ten-minute play to PlayGround in 2003. I became part of the pool, and, after Brady Lea and Martha Soukup stopped laughing, they showed me the ropes.

What are your goals as a playwright?
To have my plays brilliantly performed in every continent in the world every night of every week.

Which playwrights inspire you as a playwright?
All of them. Today: Adrienne Kennedy, Maria Irene Fornes, all the June Anne Baker winners, and, of course, all the PlayGround Playwrights Pool past and present. And in honor of Buster Posey, the Organic Theatre Company members who wrote Bleacher Bums.

Does your teaching have an impact on your playwriting, or vice versa?
My rule for teaching is I don't teach anything that isn't useful/inspiring for my playwriting. Tell no one.

What inspired you to write See. On. Unseen. The. Lost.?
I have a dear friend Abbie Lehrman who has worked with very poor people, people who have nowhere to live, for years. She said in all her years of doing this work only once did a person on the street say to her: "This is a lifestyle choice." She replied: "If it's a lifestyle choice, kid, what's your other option?"

You did what could be called a very literal translation of the topic, including the actual words from the Eugene O’Neill quote in your play. Why do you have the character mistakenly attribute the words to Jack Kerouac?
I read the quote from Eugene O'Neill that was the prompt and I thought: "Sounds like Kerouac to me." Maybe it was the word "beatitude," because Kerouac loved that one so much, but also the idea that we all have flashes where we see the truth -- and then the curtain falls and we stagger away -- kind of like the theatre.

Why did you write the roles without specifying their gender or ethnicity?
I wanted to say, "baise toi," (I hope my French is correct) to Samuel Beckett for refusing to let women play Vladimir and Estragon in Godot. I'm a proud member of the Dramatists Guild, but, jeez, you write a momentous work, Sammy-boy, let people at it.

What do you hope people will take away from See.?
I hope they have a crazy, intense experience that transforms their lives.

What was the writing process like?
Was it similar or different to your usual writing process?
Yep. Write. Rewrite, rewrite, rewrite, rewrite, rewrite. Ad infinitum. Alas, I am not one of these, "Start the play at 1:15 on Tuesday and submit it at 2:00," playwrights, like many in the PlayGround Pool.

What are your plans for the summer?
Write. Go see a bunch of plays. Write. See plays. Write. Write. Write.

What are you working on right now?
A retelling of the myth of Uranus and Gaia for the SF Olympians Festival. The staged reading is October 13 at the Exit. The remarkable Molly Noble directs.

What are your upcoming projects?
Woman's Will in San Francisco is doing one of my short plays that was initially developed for PlayGround, Counting the Minutes on June 3 and 4 at 8:00, Phoenix Theatre. Part of the Playfest 2011 Benefit. See ya there.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Young Playwrights Learn and Write About Vaudeville

Earlier this year, PlayGround announced a playwriting competition open to all
Bay Area high school students. Contestants had until April 25th to submit a new ten-minute play based on the March Monday Night PlayGround topic, “Vaudeville,” just like the rest of the PlayGround Writers Pool. The winning plays are being presented as staged readings a la Monday Night, with professional Bay Area directors and actors, on a few select nights of the Best of PlayGround Festival. Tonight was the first night of the Young Playwrights Project, featuring Alona Bach's Act After Curtain, directed by Rebecca Ennals of the San Francisco Shakespeare Festival, and featuring PlayGround Company Members Cindy Goldfield and Danielle Levin. Here is the line-up for the rest of the Festival:

Fri 5/20: You Wanna Refill? by Rebecca Leiner (SOTA ’11) and Madison Worthington (SOTA ’11)
Sat 5/21: Secrets in a Backstage Box by Pavla Berghen-Wolf (Jewish Community High School of the Bay ’13)
Sun 5/22: Shakespeare in an Airport by Caety Klingman (Miramonte High ’11)

Below is a group interview with the playwrights, about how they began writing, what they learned about vaudeville, and their plans for the future.

How did you first start writing plays?

ALONA: I’ve been acting for a while, so I fell in love with plays long before I tried writing one myself. When I was in seventh grade, I did a reading in New York for The People in the Picture (while it was still in development and called Laughing Matters), and I literally watched the script change as the playwright made edits to the text and story-line. It was such a strange experience to watch a play (which until that point I’d thought of as a completely immutable thing) be so liquid and changeable. It occurred to me then that the selection of plays in the world wasn’t finite, that people actually wrote new plays and changed them, and that I didn’t necessarily have to wait to see a play about something I was interested in -- I could write one for myself. What an epiphany!

I wish I could say that I was so inspired that I went home from the reading and began to write my own plays, but that would be a lie. In theory, I intended to, but I really, really hated the way I wrote. My characters’ annoying voices, my cliched plots, my pervasive over-sentimentality -- every time I sat down to write something, it turned out to be the worst piece of garbage that ever existed (at least in my mind, but also probably in real life). I decided not to write anything unless a teacher made me, or unless I could hide it under my bed or in a difficult-to-locate computer file.

Last year in History class, though, I sat next to a friend and during downtime in class we’d write plays and share them with each other. They whole process was so private -- only he and I read them -- that I was much less self-concious about my writing. Our play-exchanges happened at about the same time that my phase of reading tons of plays and seeing way more theater than I could afford to (time-wise and money-wise) started. I was seeing a lot of shows and each time I left the theater, I thought: “That play was incredibly [insert superlative adjective here]. I want to do that.” So my friend and I set up a (very small) playwriting club at school and we’ve both been writing plays this year.

REBECCA: At the end of ninth grade, going into the summer, my theatre ensemble started our playwriting class. I have been writing since then.

MADISON: I first started writing plays at school for my playwriting class. My teacher would put on some music, shout out some unheard-of words from the dictionary, or read us a news article to get us thinking and writing.

PAVLA: In my theatre class at school, we did a brief unit on playwrighting, so I began writing short scenes. Then I decided to write an entire one-act.

What is your writing process like when writing a play?

I haven’t written very many yet, so I’m not quite sure. My (extremely limited) experience is that my process varies, but it’s always messy. Sometimes the characters come to me first, sometimes the feeling of the play, and sometimes I just see or hear or read some random Thing that seems so interesting that I wonder how it would look or sound in a play. I write the Thing down in a notebook (or, if I’m feeling “organized”, I type it into one of those Sticky Notes on Macs [that are now taking over my computer screen]) and let the Thing marinate. If it actually is interesting and wasn’t just me having an over-imaginative moment, the Thing eventually turns into Something. Generally. Mostly. Anyway, after that initial idea, I tend to outline broadly and then fill in the scenes. Sometimes the scenes will change the outline slightly because I’ll discover something new about the characters from the way they talk or react.

I get an idea and I start a draft. Then I revise it a few times until I send it to a classmate. Once I get their notes and revise it again, I send it to my teacher, who helps edit it. We go through many drafts.

I will flip through my notebook of scribbled writing until I find a concept that I like and want to build on. From there I go through draft after draft and get family, friends, and teachers to read it and give me feedback. Thank you to everyone who has helped me in my writing process!

I think about a topic, then I create characters and think about the characters relationships with one another and their goals. I begin writing the dialogue, and the characters lines and actions make the story progress. I will have one idea in the beginning and depending on what I can picture happening with actors onstage, then the plot and dialogue will evolve accordingly.

Who are some of your favorite playwrights?

Ooh. This is tough. Lately I’ve been reading a lot of Tennessee Williams, some George Bernard Shaw, and a bit of Chekov, and I love all of those. There are also a bunch of local playwrights whose work I would love to see over and over and over. THEN there are other playwrights whose plays I want to see more of after seeing or reading one and falling in love.

Favorite Playwrights- William Shakespeare, Tennessee Williams, Lillian Helman

My favorite play at the moment is Beth Henley's Crimes of the Heart. I also love Tennessee Williams and Eugene O'Neill.

William Shakespeare, Rogers & Hammerstein, and Oscar Wilde.

How much did you know about vaudeville before writing your play?

Er...not much. It’s funny because for a while I was really into early-20th century America, but I didn’t ever have an obsession with vaudeville specifically and I didn’t know very much about it. I knew the basics and could probably converse about sister acts and The Palace semi-coherently. I had also just seen The Companion Piece at Z Space, so I was thinking a lot about that.

I did not know much about vaudeville before this play. I took clowning classes, but it was interesting to explore it in writing.

Before writing You Wanna Refill? I knew that anything considered to be in the genre of vaudeville had to be full of energy and comedy.

I have always loved musicals, so the bit I knew before about vaudeville mainly came from what I saw in "Singing in the Rain" and such musicals, and my understanding that vaudeville was like a traveling talent show.

What did you learn about vaudeville in the process of writing your play?

Details -- SO many small details, random tidbits, interesting stories. Who knew that the way the acts were arranged within a show meant something, or that “Will it play in Peoria?” has its roots in vaudeville? (Okay, a lot of people knew those things, but I didn’t.) I also found it interesting (though depressing) to read about the death of vaudeville as the American population turned its attention to moving pictures.

Vaudeville taught me that there is no such thing as "going past an extreme" in playwrighting. A playwright can take as many risks as they want, and the story will unfold before them.

In the process of writing, I learned just how hard it is to keep up the slapstick energy that makes a piece vaudeville and also what a broad genre vaudeville is. Anything from physical comedy to plate-spinning can be considered vaudeville, as long as it keeps an audience laughing and ready for more.

I learned a bit about the time period and made an effort to use diction and prop/costume descriptions that would be appropriate for children of vaudeville performers of that time.

What are your plans after you graduate?

I’m staying in the Bay Area for a gap year to start a non-profit called Up Next, which will encourage more teens to go see theater by setting up discounts, outreach, and group theater-going (especially at the less-well-known and more experimental Bay Area theater companies). After four years of being the youngest person in the audience, I wanted to bring my generation of theater-goers to see all of the extremely relevant, thought-provoking, and just plain awesome performances in the Bay Area. (I also really need to learn how to drive before I go to college. So that needs to happen next year too.) After that, I’m heading to Harvard and the snow!

Next year I am attending the University of Minnesota Guthrie Theatre's BFA Actor Training Program. I will continue writing during my spare time.

After graduating, I plan to continue to pursue theatre and attend UCLA in the fall.

It feels like a long way into the future, but community service, traveling, and art of some kind are at the top of my to-do list.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

A Hit, A Palpable Hit! Festival Reviews Are In!

The reviews for the 15th annual Best of PlayGround Festival are in and, while everyone seems to have their own favorites, the festival is clearly resonating with critics and audiences alike.

“PLAYGROUND is a local treasure that fosters playwriting, and this is an evening of theatre that is a sure bet. You’ll be debating about which one you liked best, and it’s a hard choice since they are all contenders.” –John McMullen, (For the full review, visit

“The joy of a short play festival is the utter diversity in style, tone and voice. You can have what amounts to a sketch comedy bumping up against muscular drama, an intriguing fragment or a surprising burst of poetry. All of that happens and more in Best of Playground 15: A Festival of New Writers & New Plays at the Thick House.” – Chad Jones, Theatre Dogs (For the full review, visit

“…an eclectic selection all worth a visit, some more so than others.” – Kedar Adour, Theatre World Internet Magazine (For the full review, visit

And here are a few (unedited) patron reviews:

“Great talent all around - writers, directors, actors, stage crew.”

“A wonderful night of theatre. The seven short plays were intriguing, clever; good writing and some good acting as well. Don't miss this one!!”

“Very interesting points of view. The play ESCAPADES was breathtaking in its subject matter, acting, ingenious staging. I will definitely go next year. Attending opening night is fun as you get to go to after party and mingle with writers, actors, producers. Great night and lots to talk about.”

“Actors were versatile and did a terrific job. I liked some plays more than others; the show as a whole was entertaining and thought provoking.”

“Show was good but seats are pretty uncomfortable :- /”

If you haven't seen it for yourself, there are still two weeks left in this year's Best of PlayGround Festival (running Thu-Sun, through May 29).  Visit for the complete schedule and to purchase tickets online.
Want to share your own reviews? Add your comments after this post or visit the "reviews" tab on our facebook page at!/playground.sf?sk=app_6261817190.

Photos: mellopix performance.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Daniel Heath Muses On the Origin of His New Play "This Is My Body," and Exposes PlayGround's Darkest Secret

THE SECOND PLAYWRIGHT in our series of interviews for the 15th Best of PlayGround Festival is Daniel Heath, who, unlike Arisa White, the first playwright we interviewed, is a longtime PlayGround member.

Daniel’s play This Is My Body, from the December 2010 Monday Night PlayGround, was directed by SF Playhouse Producing Director, Susi Damilano, for the Festival, and features Michael Phillis and Rinabeth Apostol. This is not the first time Susi has directed Daniel’s work. In fact, she directed the world premiere of his play, Seven Days, as part of the SF Playhouse’s Sandbox series last fall. Seven Days was Daniel’s second PlayGround commission.

His first dramatic full-length play, Fifty Years Hungry, was completed in 2009 as part of the PlayGround Fellowship. His full-length comedy Forking was produced by Pianofight Productions in San Francisco and Los Angeles in 2009, and his short plays have been performed in San Francisco, Toronto, and upstate New York. His new musical, The Man of Rock, premiered at Climate Theater in December--around the same time that This Is My Body was written.

Are you from the Bay Area?

I grew up in the humid, bug-infested flats of the Midwest. I moved out here in '95.

Where do you live now?

San Francisco, a few blocks from Thick House.

What do you do, besides write plays?

I've got a small technology consulting business (Giant Rabbit, that does on-site IT support and web and database development for non-profit organizations (mostly but not exclusively in the Bay Area).

Also, I'm a bit of a cocktail enthusiast.

Was PlayGround the first time you wrote a play?


What was the first play you ever wrote?

My application play for the PlayGround writers pool. It was not good.

How long have you been in PlayGround? What was the first play you wrote for PlayGround?

Six seasons now. That's thirty-six plays, for people keeping score at home (I write every month). Add in the two application plays I wrote (for my first and second seasons), and we're at thirty-eight.

My first submission was called "Carthage and East 14th"; the topic was "In Medias Res." It was also not a good play. The opening lines were:

DIDO: Are you dead?

TROY: I'm okay. Just waiting for the gods to finish me off.

DIDO: You've got something on your face.

TROY: Wedding cake.

It goes downhill from there. No one has ever read that play except for the selection committee six years ago.

This Is My Body feels like a coming-of-age story everyone has experienced. Is it based on a personal experience?

Nope. I almost never write about personal experiences. I did spend a bunch of time in empty churches when I was a kid (Dad was/is a minister), but they were Protestant, so, no wine; that's where the setting came from, but the characters and situation are made up.

What inspired This Is My Body?

The topic, Alchemy, got me thinking about mystical transformations, which naturally got me thinking about transubstantiation, and that naturally led me to write about two kids breaking into a church and drinking communion wine.

Don't ask me where these ideas come from. Actually, I would love to know because it would be a lot easier if I could go there on purpose.

Do you have a Catholic background?

Nope. Relatively-lefty Protestant upbringing, which means they didn't really get into the more hard-core stuff (like transubstantiation). When I was a grad student at UC Berkeley, though, I did a bunch of reading about transubstantiation and the Eucharist from around the Reformation, and it was pretty fascinating stuff (what happens if the consecrated host gets dropped, and the crumbs get eaten by a mouse?)--wonderfully literal and Gothic.

One of the things I like to do in my writing is to take something that I *don't* believe in, try to take it as seriously and sympathetically as possible, and see what comes out. I end up with more interesting plays that way. (Nothing is worse than a playwright winning an argument with himself.)

Did you do any research while writing the play?

Yep. Does communion wine come in screw-top bottles? Yes it does.

Do you have any brothers, mean, dumb or otherwise?

My younger brother Jake is an ICU nurse. He was pretty dumb when he was a little kid, but once he developed object permanency things started to come together for him. He can be mean in his professional capacity as person-who-keeps-people-alive, but, in his words, "Everyone gets the nice Jake first." So if you take your meds and eat your food and don't try to bite any of the nursing staff, I understand he's generally a pretty good guy to have taking care of you.

Did you ever steal your mom's credit card?

Nope. There were 3500 people in my town and my dad was a minister. I could not get away with much.

What was the writing process like for This Is My Body?

The usual. Churn through a half-dozen bad ideas, finally late at night on Monday get a decent idea, write some notes, come up with a structure, then just plunge into it and write until it's done, which was some time in the small hours. Next day, read it over, fix it up, send it off.

What do you hope people will take away from seeing This Is My Body?

A sense that something important has happened, and we're not sure what. I think Rinabeth and Michael do a wonderful job of bringing us with them on this journey that they don't understand, but where so much is at stake.

Were you surprised when This Is My Body was picked for the Festival?


Why do you think it was chosen?

As I understand it, the PlayGround selection process involves a group of Dutch wood beetles known for their intra-species aggression. Each beetle has the title of a play engraved on its carapace, then they are set into an antique hat box which serves as an arena. As the beetles fight, dead beetles are removed and those plays are taken out of consideration. When six (or, in the case of the Festival, seven) beetles remain alive, they are carefully removed, etherized for posterity, and arranged on pins in the Hall of Champions. Those plays are then included in the Festival.

What are your plans for this summer?

I've just discovered that my blender makes terrific crushed ice, so I see a lot of crushed-ice cocktails, especially with some of these high-proof rums I've been having a lot of fun working with lately. Also, I'll be learning how to sit still and fight through the theatrical illusion while unbelievably awful things appear to happen to my girlfriend, who will be playing Lavinia in Titus Andronicus. I don't know if those two activities will help or hinder one another.

What projects are you working on now?

My first PlayGround commission from '09 (Fifty Years Hungry) is the last of my full-length plays that has yet to be produced; I've been working on a final version of that after a couple of readings last fall. I'm also working on polishing up Man of Rock for another run somewhere someday. Then... something new.

What are your goals as a playwright?

I'd like to keep writing plays and keep getting better at it, and I'd like those plays to continue to be produced. As long as those two things are happening, I'm a happy playwright.

Which writers or playwrights inspire you?

When I started out in the pool, the writers who had been in the pool for a while and were farther along than me and having success beyond PlayGround were very inspiring--and still are some of my favorite writers around.

Clandy and Meavon, Hooked on the Junk

On a cruel and glacial Monday morning after receiving [Some Cool Prize], a thirty-something playwright (we'll call her A) is feeling inexplicably down as she contemplates the meaning, the fear, the QUESTION. What now?

She could...
1) bang out a few full-length play pitches that would someday blossom into thought provoking and wildly successful full-length plays, rocketing her into euphoria and infamy!
2) procrastinate until the fear generated by not banging out a few full-length play pitches gnaws away at her conscience and personal dignity, leaving her a broken shell of a woman.
3) do something totally stupid and potentially embarrassing that could possibly be just the little pick-me-up she's jonesing for.
...Ding, ding, ding! Sad, but true. She is hooked on the junk.

Now, our strict liability clause restricts me from divulging her connection, but I can say this--you can find anything on the internet.
Minutes later, in the bowels of the internet, or maybe just her email contact list, the thirty-something playwright junkie does something desperate and previously unthinkable...

Hey, B. It's A.

I'm a little low, if you know what I mean, and I have a proposition for you. If you're down with it, maybe you and I could
tag-team--a daily play-writing blog. Here's how it might go. We decide on two characters, a circumstance, a locale, etc. and we each write one line a day, playing off of what the other has written. In the end, we might both be totally satisfied, or we might have a hot mess on our hands.


A, The recently crowned [Some Cool Prize] winner

...and hit SEND.
Moments later, in the bowels of that same internet, or maybe just his email in-box, another thirty-something playwright junkie (Let's call him B) takes the bait. This is how it is with junkies the world over.
Dear A,

You're on! I get to collaborate with the [Some Cool Prize] winner? How could I say no to that offer? And just last night with my friend I was sharing how my prose writing has resurfaced but I need a little jolt for stage writing these days. I'd appreciate the "obligation."

Let's play!

B, Kind of a Big Deal, though not the [Some Big Prize] winner

And likewise hits send. Resulting in the brave and pitiable actions you will eventually witness if you have not yet gouged out your eyes. I'll give you a moment to do that, if you'd like
Right. Eyes still in? (damned rubber-neckers.) Meanwhile...

Dear B,

I propose the following elements for later consideration.
1) Larry-40s-a roofer-lives with his mother-a cat lover
2) Stephanie-20s-a kleptomaniac-manic and bubbly
3) Doris-60s-a school bus driver-cantankerous-collects Franklin Mint celebrity dolls
4) Henry-20s-a compulsive liar-stutters
5) Helen-40s-a recent widow-has taken to drinking

1) A late-night drive through window in a sleepy small town
2) A slowly melting glacier
3) A coat check room
4) A lonely breakfast table
5) A broken down car in a rough neighborhood

incident/problem: (I'm going to hold off on suggesting these until we decide on the other elements... mostly because I can't think of anything.)

1) sock puppet
2) stapler
3) mirror
4) brick
5) shoe box

1) tittle
2) nomad
3) liquid
4) soap opera
5) ferret
I showed you mine. Now you show me yours.


Character/situation/place (I don't mind your ideas about thinking of these separate, but for me to see the character I had to see where they were.  Completely open to taking these characters and putting them in different places):
1) Eva (sixties, widowed, son and daughter both live far away) she goes to a bookstore for a reading but on the wrong night and there is no event
2) Terry (forties, single, younger sister died when he was young, he had conversations with her in his closet as a kid and on his return visits to his home) set in the home the day his father is moving away
3) Katie (late thirties, lawyer, lives life fast, falls in and out of love faster)
4) Philip (late twenties, sex worker aspiring novelist with three unpublishable manuscripts having received dozens of rejections for the same reason "characters seem one-dimensional")
canvas bag
(can't think of any right now)
A BART train, stuck underground, during LONG delay
under an awning during a hail storm
late night in an empty diner
uneventful tour bus ride
A bookstore that has book readings (characters go expecting a reading, but it's the wrong night)
Okay, I must get back to grading papers.  If I may, I think that this should be included in the blog--the entire conversation beginning with your first.  What do you think?
Thanks for getting me going with this.  Can I admit how nervous I am.  Usually I only have myself to bother if I write myself into a wall, but now I'd be responsible for ANOTHER person's frustration.  I'm going to try to focus on the positive now though.  This could be a lot of fun and exactly what I needed.  

YOU'RE nervous, B? I think I just peed a little... Anyway, we can use 
clever pseudonyms like Clandy and Meavon. Nobody will ever suspect that 
we're those playwriting hacks from the Internet!

I'm off to work.
Later on we can blindly choose our characters, place etc. and agree on a
general trajectory. Have fun grading. Or just fail them all and go to 
the beach.

-------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------The beach sounds fun...and I do have tenure...  But no. 
How do we choose the people, the place, the issue??? Since you're the [Some Great Prize] winner, I'm going to let you make the first choice and I'll make the next choice until we're stuck with having to write a line of dialogue. Sound fair? I'm thinking we should set this up all on our blog page and not bother anymore with these emails. :-)

Have a great day.

The Meav


Dearest Meavon,

How do we choose? I thought you'd never ask. I wrote all of the character suggestions on slips of paper and drew at random for both of us.
You will write for:
Terry-forties-single. (His younger sister died when he was young. He had conversations with her in his closet as a kid and on his return visits to his home)
I will write for: Stephanie-20s-a kleptomaniac-manic and bubbly.

I think since we both had mirror and shoebox as props, we should use those two.

Your job now is to write all of the place suggestions on slips of paper and blindly choose one.
Also, you should choose the "word" that might come up. If you have ideas now you can enter them into the mix before choosing. And then... we're ready to roll.

-------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------And so it begins...

Stay tuned for the next exciting episode of "Clandy and Meavon, hooked on the junk

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Clandy and Meavon Still Hooked on the Junk

Oh, yes. It has begun. Last night. Late last night, B receives this email...

OMG! I'm freakin out. I just posted our first blog. Granted I'm not sure I did it right and I have no clue how we're both going to be able to edit it, but it's up.



B freaks out. It's late and he's almost completely sedated from allergy medication, but his heart races and he freaks out nonetheless. He considers writing then and there, but he still hasn't quite gotten over the intimidation that rises with each thought of working with the winner of the [Some Cool Prize], the one who he witnessed take risk after risk during the PlayGround season, the one from whom he learned to push against the boundaries of form, space, and language...He freaked out. He closed his laptop. He flossed and brushed his teeth. (Even if he didn't, we'd say that he did for the sake of his fragile sense of his image.) He rubbed his cat's head and spoke to it (he swears he's not a cat person, but we all know only cat people talk to cats as if the pet is some old friend). He yawned. No, this was no time to step into the arena. He'd sleep and tomorrow he would dare take the next step.

Tomorrow comes and he responds:

Bring it!
Thanks for getting that first post up.
There's a footnote that reads "." Did you create an account for that? If so how can I get that action so I don't post anything with my real name. Anonymity is of extreme importance, A!
Place: tour bus. Word: Splenetic ( word of the day. Why read books to increase your vocabulary when you can just get an app with a new word everyday?!?)
Shit. Know what this means? Means you have to write the first lines. Unless you pull a chickenshit move and write stage settings or something lame like that. :-)
Game on!



What will tomorrow bring, or tonight for that matter? I don't know about you, but I feel that maybe the implausible is brewing. Now wouldn't that be something?

Monday, May 09, 2011

3rd Annual Young Playwrights Project Finalists!

We're thrilled to announce the finalists of the third annual Young Playwrights Project, whose work will be presented May 19-21 during the Best of PlayGround Festival: Alona Bach (Act After Curtain); Rebecca Leiner and Madison Worthington (You Wanna Refill?); Pavla Berghen-Wolf (Secrets in a Backstage Box); and returning 2010 finalist Caety Klingman (Shakespeare in an Airport). Earlier this year, PlayGround announced a playwriting competition open to all Bay Area high school students. Contestants had to submit a new ten-minute play from the topic prompt “Vaudeville” by April 25th.

The following selected plays will be presented as staged readings and serve as “curtain raisers” each night of the festival May 19-22:

- Thu 5/19: Act After Curtain by Alona Bach (Berkeley High ’11)
- Fri 5/20: You Wanna Refill? by Rebecca Leiner (SOTA ’11) and Madison Worthington (SOTA ’11)
- Sat 5/21: Secrets in a Backstage Box by Pavla Berghen-Wolf (Jewish Community High School of the Bay ’13)
- Sun 5/22: Shakespeare in an Airport by Caety Klingman (Miramonte High ’11)

“Through the Young Playwrights Project, PlayGround and Bay Area high schools partner to enable young writers to find their own expressive voice through the creation, development, and production of short plays,” stated PlayGround Artistic Director Jim Kleinmann. With a generous planning grant from the California Arts Council Artists-in-Schools program in 2007, PlayGround began taking its unique playwright development efforts into Bay Area high schools as part of the PlayGround Young Playwrights Project. This year marks the third year of the Bay Area-wide Young Playwrights Project Contest.  “We are excited to open the PlayGround process and particularly the PlayGround Festival – our celebrated annual showcase for the Bay Area’s best new writers – to Bay Area high school students and look forward, in turn, to sharing their work with Bay Area audiences and theatre-makers,” added PlayGround Education Coordinator & Company Member Eric Fraisher Hayes.

The Best of PlayGround Festival, a showcase of the Bay Area's best new writers and their work, runs May 5-29 at Thick House with performances Thursday-Saturday at 8pm and Sunday at 7pm.  In addition, PlayGround presents staged readings of new full-length plays commissioned and developed by PlayGround. For more information, visit  For tickets to the Festival and Young Playwrights Project performances, visit


Alona Bach is a graduating senior at Berkeley High, and plans to take a gap year in the Bay Area to start a teen theater-going non-profit before heading East to Harvard. She is new to the world of playwriting but is an avid audience member, actor, and fan of PlayGround’s work.

Pavla Berghen-Wolf is a sophomore at the Jewish Community High School of the Bay. When not juggling schoolwork, she takes dance and pilates classes at the ODC dance school. She has been tap dancing since age six. She also enjoys reading, sewing, creative writing and is on her school’s literary magazine board.

Caety Klingman is a senior at Miramonte High School. Next year she will be attending the University of Chicago. She was a finalist of last year's Young Playwrights Project, and she has participated in the New Works playwriting program through Young Rep.

Rebecca Leiner is a senior at San Francisco School of the Arts and has studied acting and playwrighting for four years. Next year she will attend the University of Minnesota's Guthrie Theatre BFA Actor Training Program. She enjoys acting, clowning, reading and writing.

Madison Worthington is a senior at San Francisco School of the Arts, where she has studied theatre for the past four years. Her interests include acting, playwriting, juggling, and aerial arts. This fall she will be attending UCLA as a B.A. Theatre major with an acting specialization.


PlayGround is the Bay Area’s leading playwright incubator. The mission of PlayGround is to support the development of significant new local voices for the theatre. More than just a play development program, PlayGround focuses on the creation of a true theatre community by nurturing the collaborative process between first-time or early development playwrights, and established professional actors and directors. With a particular focus on the ten-minute form and increasingly on new full-lengths through PlayGround’s commissioning programs, PlayGround creates a microcosm of the greater theatre scene, allowing for experimentation and risk-taking as well as the honing of style and technique. More information, including artist biographies, at


The Best of PlayGround Festival is PlayGround’s annual showcase of the best new plays by the best new writers. The festival features a four-week run of an evening-length program of six short plays and one short musical originally developed as part of the Monday Night PlayGround series at Berkeley Rep, with performances Thursday through Sunday evenings. In addition, the festival also features staged readings of seven new full-length plays commissioned and developed by PlayGround (see for the complete schedule) and readings of four high student short plays as part of the third annual Young Playwrights Project Contest (

For more information, visit
Alona Bach (left) in a production shot from
Berkeley Playhouse's Narnia.

Thursday, May 05, 2011

Coming Out of the Refrigerator: Arisa White Talks About Her New Play "Frigidare," Poetry, and Minute Maid Fruit Punch

IN CONJUNCTION WITH THE 15th BEST OF PLAYGROUND FESTIVAL, which is playing May 5-29 at the Thick House in San Francisco, we will be interviewing the Festival playwrights so you can get to know them a little better. Our first playwright—Arisa White—is not only new to the Festival, but new to PlayGround as well. Actually, she is new to playwriting in general.

Arisa is not new to writing, however; she received an MFA in poetry at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst in 2006. Author of two poetry chapbooks, Disposition for Shininess (Factory Hollow Press, 2008) and Post Pardon (Mouthfeel Press, 2011), she was selected by the San Francisco Guardian for the 2010 Hot Pink List. She has received residencies, fellowships, and/or scholarships from Squaw Valley Community of Writers, Atlantic Center for the Arts, and University of Western Michigan, among others. Nominated for a Pushcart Prize in 2005, her poetry has appeared in numerous publications and is featured on WORD with the Jessica Jones Quartet and in the staged production of Fingernails Across A Chalkboard: Poetry and Prose on HIV/AIDS from the Black Diaspora.

She wrote her play Frigidare for the first Monday Night PlayGround of the season back in October. The topic of the month was “It Gets Better,” the title of a video project launched by journalist Dan Savage, who wanted to encourage gay youth struggling with bullying, in reaction to a spate of teen suicides. Frigidare is one of seven plays in the Festival. Jon Tracy directs, and Michael Phillis and Holli Hornlien perform.

Are you from the Bay Area originally?

No, I am originally from Brooklyn, NY. Moved our here five years ago after finishing an MFA in poetry. A close poet friend of mine suggested after I get my degree to go to a place I have always wanted to live and write. A new context does wonders for writing--leads you in different directions as well.

Where in the Bay Area do you currently live?

Oakland, Lake Merritt.

What do you do, besides write plays?

I am a full-time editorial assistant at a dance education magazine, Dance Studio Life. I volunteer as a blog editor for Her Kind, a project of VIDA: Women in Literary Arts, that brings women writers in conversation with one another on topics that are related to the industry and to their lives. And I write poems.

What are your plans for the summer?

I have been awarded the inaugural Rose O’Neill Literary House-Cave Canem Summer Residency at Washington College. The residency gives one Cave Canem fellow the opportunity to spend the month of July at Washington College in Chestertown, Maryland, working on a new poetry manuscript. I will be completing a collection of persona poems based on a woman who was held captive in her home for 12 years. As a part of this residency, I will teach a full day poetry workshop to high school students, which I am looking forward to doing. I enjoy teaching and sharing what I love to do with young people.

Why do you think your play was chosen to be in the Festival?

I think my play was chosen because of its dry humor and ability to make others think about how our generalizations, assumptions, and stereotypes govern most of actions.

What inspired you to write Frigidare?

Frigidare was definitely inspired by the October topic of "It Gets Better." I was thinking about socialization and how culturally and socially we conspire to make people be a certain way, and when they do not fit what is deemed heteronormative, there is violence taken out on that individual. And the violence does not need to be extreme and ghastly, it can be passive actions that result in isolating an individual because they do not adhere to the value system of mainstream culture. And in thinking about this, I wondered, what if a mother was determined to make her child be and experience the things we considered bad, wrong, inappropriate, etc, in the hopes of making them a better person?

What was the writing process like for it?

Like most things I write, I take a significant amount of time to let it bloom in it--take shape emotionally and then I wait for the image, the words, or the character to come to be. Once that happens, I go with it until there is nothing left to go with. There were moments when I thought, is this too ridiculous? A boy in a refrigerator? Would a mother do something like this? I had to let the doubt fuel the creation of the piece, because if I was questioning it, that meant it had to be, I had to try this, I had to make it plausible. Frigidare felt risky to me and when I feel that with any of my writing, I know this is where I need to go, explore, and investigate. Writing is a process where I better understand my human nature and the nature of others.

What do you hope people will take away from seeing Frigidare?

That we can't make others be what we want them to be; we can't force our agendas, beliefs, or values on others even when we think it's coming from a place of love. We have to provide the space for others and ourselves to be without judgment.

Did you write plays before PlayGround?

When I was a freshman in high school I took a playwriting class with Young Playwrights, Inc. in New York City. Then, I wrote a full-length play about a teenager who finds out she is pregnant and is figuring out what to do. Later, as an undergrad at Sarah Lawrence, I audited a class on writing the monologue but only showed up for the first class--by that time, I was very much into poetry and focused my energy there.

How did you come to start playwriting?

Growing up with many siblings--I am the oldest daughter of seven--we would entertain ourselves with making skits and recording them on our camcorder. My older brother, younger brother and sister and I would spend our weekends together in imaginary land, being superheros who saved people from other planets, attacked Martians, and then we would do commercials for Minute Maid Fruit Punch!

What are your goals as a playwright?

Admittedly, I am still forming those goals. I'm still getting my feet wet and learning to better understand the form and what I can do in it. Goals that I have for myself as a person, being in this culture and society, is to find the beauty where you least expect it. To take difficult realities and show the people involved and how their experiences have shaped them. To take risks artistically, emotionally, and personally so that I can further evolve myself and the work I love to do.

How does your process for writing poetry compare to your process for writing plays?

The process is different and the same, I would say. Working in the play form, I have to make my characters embody and show the emotion, I have to move them around. I have to think about a body in space, which is a whole other level awareness that I need to bring to the page when writing. With poetry, the poem doesn't need the body in the same way. It is far more of an introspective process--I can solely deal in the realm of immaterial: spiritual or emotional without having to think about how each word, image, will move the poem forward. Essentially, I get to abandon causality, if I choose. And that is where I wrestle a bit with playwriting: can I have a character do or say something without needing to move the moment forward or backward? Is there always cause and effect? Because I have spent more years with poetry, I don't feel limited by the idea of what a poem should be. With playwriting, I am still grappling with what a play is and what a play is to me.

Which playwrights inspire you as a playwright?

Lately, I have been inspired by poet playwrights--writers who have crossed over or mixed genres. Ntozake Shange, Cornelius Eady, Muriel Rukeyser, and Claudia Rankine.

Tuesday, May 03, 2011

Adam Szymkowicz Interviews Playwrights

It started almost two years ago. In fact on June 3rd it will be exactly two years since playwright Adam Szymkowicz began interviewing his peers and featuring their interviews on his blog.

To date he's interviewed 347 playwrights.

I thought I'd point out this amazing resource and project since the latest interview featured Playground playwright Katie May.

In fact, there's been a few Bay Area playwrights who've been interviewed:*

Eugenie Chan
Christopher Chen
Lauren Gunderson
Julia Jarcho
Peter Sinn Nachtrieb
Enrique Urueta

Malachy Walsh
and yours truly was interviewed earlier this year (I'm #310).

Check out this partial list (alpha) that Adam posted when he hit 300. And don't miss Adam's own interview (#100).

*These were the Bay Area playwrights I recognized on the list, if you know of others who have also been interviewed, please feel free to make additions in the Comments.

Update: Here's an updated list (alpha) of the interviews that Adam sent my way. It has 325 playwright interviews listed.